For all my yearly rewatches of Bernard and the Genie, The Holiday and the Christmas episodes of The Vicar of Dibley, there are some Christmas films or shows of yore I’d maybe forgotten about but loved at the time, and I am only just now rediscovering.
Such is the case with Robbie the Reindeer. Partly written and produced by Richard Curtis in aid of Comic Relief, this animated series of 30 minute specials kicked off with Hooves of Fire on Christmas Day, 1999 on BBC One. It was the nation’s first introduction to Robbie, the slightly paunchy, fun loving son of his famous dad Rudolph, voiced by Father Ted alumnus Ardal O’Hanlon.
Narrated (appropriately enough) by another famous Robbie – Robbie Williams – this charming animation, which takes a lot of cues from the wildly successful Wallace & Gromit series (many, myself included, mistakenly believed it was the work of Aardman Animations, who had produced Wallace & Gromit), followed the amusing tale of Robbie arriving at the North Pole in August.
His dad’s sent him to join the team to train to pull the sleigh for Father Christmas (voiced by Ricky Tomlinson), and he soon discovers that notional head of the team, Blitzen (voiced by Steve Coogan) wants Robbie made into a venison pie.
Between this and a budding unrequited romance with Donner (voiced by Jane Horrocks), Robbie leaves the team dejected but eventually trains under the guidance of Old Jingle (a haggered wise old reindeer clearly modelled as a parody of Yoda from Star Wars, voiced by Harry Enfield), competes to take Blitzen on in the annual Reindeer Games.
I just watched this again a couple of weeks ago after a second hand binge on eBay, and having made this one of my regular festive rewatches for my first couple of years of secondary school in the early 00s, I almost felt a bit sad that it had been lesser watched since that time.
Not least because of the numerous pop culture references and in-jokes that it finds time to make along the way – the Star Wars reference I mentioned above for one, but also, at a Christmas party, a seal singing ‘Crazy’ by actual Seal (promptly muted by a fish) and top impressionist Alistair McGowan providing the ‘voices’ of the Reindeer Games’ commentators ‘Des Yeti‘ and ‘Alan Snowmen‘.
There has been two more Robbie the Reindeer specials in the 20 years since – one in 2002 (Legend of the Lost Tribe) and the last in 2007 (Close Encounters of the Herd Kind) but it’s undoubtedly Hooves of Fire that I intend from this year on to make a seasonal revisitation on. He deserves to be just as if not more famous then his red nosed father, so why not revisit him yourself this Christmas?